British-Iranian dispute enmeshed in tangled history

British-Iranian dispute enmeshed in tangled history | csmonitor.com

Amid demands from Tehran, and renewed diplomatic pressure from London, analysts speculate on the motives behind the dispute over captured sailors.

By Eoin O’Carroll | csmonitor.com

After nearly a week, Iran and Britain are no closer to resolving a territorial-waters dispute that led to the capture and arrest of 15 British navy personnel.

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said that to resolve the standoff, Britain must admit that the troops had entered Iranian waters. Mr. Mottaki offered to let UK officials visit the captured Royal Navy personnel, but he backed away from his earlier claims that Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only woman on the British crew, would be released by Thursday. The AP said that despite Mottaki’s statements – Iran’s first offer to end the dispute since it began on Friday – “British acquiescence appeared unlikely.”

Mottaki said that if the alleged entry into Iranian waters was a mistake “this can be solved. But they have to show that it was a mistake. That will help us to end this issue.”

The offer came at the end of a day of rising tensions. On Wednesday, Britain announced that it was suspending bilateral ties with the Mideast state. The same day, the captives appeared on Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language station. In the video, Ms. Turney is seen wearing a headscarf and apologizing for “obviously” trespassing in Iranian waters. Speaking to the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called the broadcast “completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal.”

Few Western news outlets give credence to Iran’s claim that the British had strayed 500 meters into Iranian waters. The Telegraph says that GPS coordinates released by the Ministry of Defense show that their troops were well outside of Iranian territory. What’s more, according to the BBC, Iran at first claimed that the capture occurred at one set of coordinates, and when it was pointed out that this was in Iraqi waters, they gave a second reading, this time in Iranian territory.

Many are left speculating over Iran’s intentions. In attempting to explain the actions, analysts have invoked everything from the country’s nuclear standoff with the West, to stepped-up US actions against Iran, to a border dispute dating from the 17th century.

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